Leave aside how dark and painful the chapter really was. The question is, Is it over? Is the chapter in which we had to focus on preventing further attacks really through? Isn't there still a war against the jihadists on? Of course Blair and other senior Obama officials have elsewhere suggested that the terror threat remains real, and even urgent. Why else the maintenance of the Bush era surveillance program? Why else the decision to send more troops to Afghanistan, and to deploy more Predator strikes into Pakistan? But can we then afford Obama's "dark and painful chapter" attitude, exemplified by his foregoing certain interrogation techniques in the present and future, and his exposing and deploring what was done in the past? Can we afford an intelligence director who tries to excuse his boss by telling us we are now safe?
K-Lo calls it torture:
The president yesterday said that "withholding these memos would only serve to deny facts that have been in the public domain for some time." If the facts are already out there, why the need for yesterday? Unless you're looking to drum up support for prosecutions?
Torture at the hands of Americans should never be swept under a rug. But some adult in this administration ought to be taking the headlines they are making deadly seriously.
John Hinderaker echos Abe Greenwald:
...you will see that DOJ's lawyers grappled carefully and fairly with issues that are, by their nature, both difficult and distasteful. I find much to agree with in the memos and little, if anything, with which I disagree from a legal standpoint. Several things about the memos are striking: the concern that is shown for the health and well-being of the detainees; the very limited circumstances under harsh interrogation techniques were used (only when the CIA had reason to believe that the detainee had knowledge about pending terrorist attacks, among other limitations), and confirmation of the fact that thousands of American servicemen have been waterboarded and subjected to the other techniques in question, as part of their training--a practice that continued at least up to the dates of the memos.
The number of terrorist attacks (that's a "man-made disaster" for any monitors from DHS who might keeping an eye on us extremists) on US soil that killed approximately 3,000 people and caused billions of dollars in economic dislocation before use of these techniques...1.
The number of attacks on US soil that killed approximately 3,000 people and caused billions of dollars in economic dislocation after use of these techniques began...0.
Reasonable people can disagree. Indeed, they can disagree about what is reasonable, as anyone who has sat through a judge’s instructions on reasonable doubt knows. Serving on a jury gives one, if nothing else, an ear for the nonsense of lawyers, but you don’t need much discernment to pick up the utter sophistry in the Justice Department memos released yesterday (thanks to an A.C.L.U. FOIA suit) and their ramblingrationalizing isn’t even the right wordon the putative reasonableness of all involved, especially the person being tortured. “A reasonable person,” a memo signed by Attorney General Jay Bybee says, would not “reasonably anticipate,” based on having his head slammed into a wall (up to “twenty or thirty times consecutively,” according to another memo) that something worse was to come; “a reasonable person in the subject’s position”position meaning, in this case, stuffed into a dark box“would not infer from this technique that severe physical pain is the next step.” Say that the next step was putting an insect in the dark box with himthis was proposed for Abu Zubaydahand the interrogators, whatever they hinted, didn’t “affirmatively” say that it was poisonous...
One thing that nobody should ever be permitted to say again, after reading these memos: "The United States didn't torture." When President Bush said it, he was a liar. The only question is whether or not he was lying to himself, so that he could sleep at night, or consciously lying to the public for reasons of political expediency.
The third Bradbury memo observed that the State Department calls many of the techniques that we were using torture when practiced in other nations. But then the memo, in part, dismisses the force of that point by saying that other nations use these methods for relatively trivial purposes, while we were using them to protect America. The end, in a sense, justifies the means. One difficulty with the memo's analysis is that many regimes that inflicted torture probably thought they were doing it for a good reason. The Inquisition was trying to defend the Faith, the Nazis were trying to defend racial purity, the Khmer Rouge was trying to defend the workers' paradise, etc. That's why the whole point of banning torture was to prohibit certain types of conduct without regard to motive. The rack or the thumbscrew can't be used even it works really well at getting information and is done for an excellent reason. Treating torture as a relative harm rather than as a categorial ban is contrary to that understanding, and that departure is not really explained in the memos.
...from a legal perspective, I do not believe there is any chance in hell of securing a criminal conviction against anyone who acted in accordance with specific OLC legal advice. The opinions of the OLC essentially carry the weight of law within the executive branch. You'd have about as much chance of convicting someone who acted in accordance with a specific Supreme Court opinion.
I'd like to point you to this article by the American Prospect's Adam Serwer, who compared the strictures placed on interrogations in the OLC memos with the practices described by the detainees in the International Committee of the Red Cross report. I am sympathetic -- or, at least, I am cognizant of the view that the detainees who described their conditions and experiences to the Red Cross might not be the most honest, most reliable witnesses. But the scope of the ICRC report, the cross-correlated evidence, the similarities of accounts between prisoners -- I believe that these will convince historians that the ICRC report fairly accurately describes the milieu of American torture, circa 2002-2009.
President Obama makes forgiving and forgetting sound awfully appealing. The country is in deep economic trouble. The days and weeks after 9/11 were really, really scary. We need our intelligence officials to be able to keep us safe without having to look over their shoulders. Good people shouldn't be punished for the bad legal advice they received. Bygones. But is the short-term comfort of saying we're over it worth the long-term cost of having become torturers and then cavalierly gotten over it? Because the real risk of getting over it is the possibility that it happens all over again.
When Cheney goes on television to insist darkly, “If it hadn’t been for what we did….then we would have been attacked again,” he can simultaneously insist that we take his word for it, because backing up his claims would require releasing information crucial to America’s safety. As Danner notes, “Cheney’s story is made not of facts but of the myths that replace them when facts remain secret: myths that are fueled by allusions to a dark world of secrets that cannot be revealed.”
That’s why Obama’s decision to release the “torture memos” is an important step, in the country’s best interests. And that’s why suggestions that he’s somehow hurting America by airing the facts are naked political ploys even if you find them on the editorial page of the Wall Street Journal.